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Bio-briquettes: Dollars and cents

BY ALVIN BROWN
Sunday, July 15, 2012


Career & Education shares with you this week part two of the bio-briquettes article

JERK chicken vendors who use burnt wood as a source of fuel are among those who could use biomass briquettes as an alternative.

Biomass briquettes (or bio-briquettes) are formed by compressing bio-waste, such as paper and garden waste. When burnt, they give off more heat energy than uncompressed bio-waste, with far less air pollution.

Jerk vendors could, therefore, either use it exclusively or to supplement their current sources, especially since coal is hard to get at certain times during the year and the attendant increase in demand causes an increase in the cost.

Small wooden briquetting machines may be bought for use in a single household or small-scale business. This would lead to a reduction in burning uncollected household garbage, while also impacting the rat infestation problem, which has reached alarming proportions in some parts of Jamaica.

Bio-briquettes may also be used in conjunction with coal in a process called co-firing. Co-firing reduces the poisonous emissions that a plant using only coal would generate. It is also possible to create bio-coal briquettes, which are briquettes composed of 20 per cent to 30 per cent biomass and 70 per cent to 80 per cent coal.

This hybrid form of fuel has 1/10 to 1/15 the amount of soot and dust as coal. Biomass burns at a lower temperature than coal and this allows pinholes that increase the surface area of the briquettes, hence increasing the coal's combustibility.

This means that coal consumption could decrease by roughly 20 per cent. However, bio-coal currently costs more to manufacture than raw coal. This, therefore, would not give Jamaica the best price for energy, nor would it be the cleanest energy source available.

Economic benefits of bio-briquettes

Using bio-briquettes will help to create jobs and, most importantly, provide an energy source that is local and sustainable. Bio-briquetting is an alternative that is environmentally friendly and would reduce both pollution and Jamaica's energy bill. A reduced energy bill will serve as a catalyst for job creation and set us on the path to a brighter future.

Jamaica intends to get 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. According to Jamaica's National Energy Policy 2009-2030, the vision of Jamaica'ss energy sector is "a modern, efficient, diversified and environmentally sustainable energy sector providing affordable and accessible energy supplies with long-term energy security and supported by informed public behaviour on energy issues and an appropriate policy, regulatory and institutional framework". The use of bio-briquettes as an alternate fuel falls in line with this vision.

If Jamaica were to look to coal technology, it would not be meeting a number of the seven goals set out in said policy. One of particular interest is goal 3: "Jamaica realises its energy resource potential through the development of renewable energy sources and enhances its international competitiveness and energy security while reducing its carbon footprint".

Jamaica cannot reduce its carbon footprint while employing coal as a fuel. Coal technology is banned in a number of countries. It is one of the reasons China and America have not yet signed the Kyoto Protocol because they have a large amount of their electricity generation done in coal factories.

Studies have shown that exposure to coal has negative effects on the body's cardiovascular, nervous and respiratory systems. What better way to ensure energy security than by creating your own fuel? Bio-briquettes are a renewable and readily available resource that is waiting to be utilised.

Alvin Brown is an instructor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies. He can be contacted at Alvin.Brown@sta.uwi.edu.



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